How to Grow a Plumbing Business in 2020, The Ultimate Guide

Diana LamirandMay 12th, 2020
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Learn plumbing business tips, plumbing marketing ideas, and everything in-between from industry experts who built their own multimillion-dollar home service companies.

Plumbers provide an essential service, in good times and bad. Your plumbing company keeps a vital mechanical system working properly in homes and businesses, providing access to clean and running water to maintain public health and general well-being. 

Your company’s plumbing techs show up when customers need them—to fix a simple leaky faucet, unclog a toilet or come to the rescue in a plumbing emergency, especially during times when normal plumbing usage doubles or triples.

Give your plumbing techs what they need to succeed by showing them how a good company leader stays focused on how to grow a plumbing service business, while confidently weathering any setbacks.

In this guide for creating a plumbing business plan, ServiceTitan seeks to help you position your plumbing company to survive any future disruptions, and be prepared to grow and adapt as the economy moves forward.

What does the service industry look like when the health crisis subsides? Will quality customer service ease homeowners’ fears about allowing service techs inside their homes? Will standard operating procedures need to change? How do you continue to grow your plumbing business in a smart and thoughtful way?

Now, during these times of health and economic uncertainty, is the prime time to take lessons learned and better position your plumbing company for growth in the short term, and for the long haul. 

John Akhoian knows something about how to run a successful plumbing business. He took a one-truck plumbing operation and turned it into 10 Rooter Hero Plumbing locations in California and Phoenix, Ariz., with more than 250 trucks and $50 million in earnings this year.

“It’s about being great at a few things, instead of trying to be a master of many things,” Akhoian says.

Learn from Akhoian and other highly successful home service industry experts as they share insider tips, tricks and tactics for how to grow a service business. It’s good advice to follow during normal or challenging times.

Create a Plumbing Business Plan by Modeling It After the Plumbing Business You Want to Become

Find a mentor who’s doing what you want to do.

  • Shadow your mentor on the job; ask for plumbing business tips.

  • Go find 10 more mentors, and do it all over again.

  • Listen to plumbing podcasts for tips and inspiration.

  • Read books on how to grow a plumbing business.

Tommy Mello, The Home Service Expert, says he wished someone had told him about finding a mentor and emulating their best business practices when he started his own garage-door business 15 years ago.

“You’ve got to act like the business you want to become, and I didn’t know that back then,” says Mello, owner of A1 Garage Door Service, which topped $30 million in revenue last year.

“If I would have listened to a mentor tell me, ‘This is why you shouldn’t do this,’ or ‘This is why you should,’ it would have definitely fast-forwarded the business.”

Find a role model who’s doing what you want to do. Shadow them on the job. Ask tons of questions. Then go find 10 more mentors, Mello advises, and do it all over again.

To grow plumbing businesses, Akhoian suggests listening to plumbing podcasts or reading books written by industry experts for insight on plumbing business profitability, plumbing marketing ideas, and more. He wrote three: The Secret to Wealth, Creating 99 Millionaires and Values First.

Akhoian says the first book describes how working in the trades was his “Plan B,” but he found wealth and success. The second one details the right path to follow to create your own personal wealth in the trades, and the third book shows the importance of establishing core values for your company to follow.

“All of the books are designed to help the trade in one way or another,” Akhoian says.

Grow Plumbing Profit by Investing Money and Time in Recruiting, Training Qualified Workforce

  • Build a strong company foundation.

  • Outline a fully developed organizational chart.

  • Always be recruiting and establish a thorough interviewing process.

  • Provide extensive training for every employee.

  • Offer performance pay as an incentive to grow.

Remember that pesky trade worker shortage, before the COVID-19 outbreak? That problem didn’t disappear overnight. 

Plumbing business owners, like others in the skilled trades, struggle to find qualified employees in a highly competitive climate. They also worry about investing time and money in training, only to see those plumbing service techs leave to go off on their own or work for another company.

Focus instead on building a strong company foundation with a fully developed organizational chart, Mello says. That means creating clear job descriptions and expectations for every position, providing extensive training to set up every employee for success, and using performance pay as an incentive to help employees grow.

“Some people say ‘always be closing.’ I say, ‘always be recruiting,’” says Mello, who gives employees $1,500 for referring a new hire. 

“I think a lot of us, we just don’t start the business right,” he adds. “Give it such a strong foundation, there’s nowhere to grow but up.”

Akhoian learned the plumbing trade by working as an apprentice for a family friend. He later offered the same plumbing apprentice opportunity to a family relative, and hired his wife to manage the office.

While working with family helped to build a strong foundation for the company, Akhoian says establishing 5 core values—Faith, Integrity, Respect, Service and Teamwork—guides his interviewing process and hiring best practices.

“When I’m interviewing somebody...I introduce the values early on. One of the questions I like is, ‘What do you like most about your current job? What’s your favorite value there, and tell me why?’ And we talk about it.

“It just gives me a good perspective of where they’re coming from,” Akhoian adds. “We don’t look at the values as a deal breaker...we try to bring people in and see if we can instill those values to help people better their lives.”

Searching for How to Grow My Plumbing Business? Start by Building a Great Company Culture 

  • Value your company’s No. 1 asset—your employees.

  • Invest as much time in recruiting and training as you do on plumbing sales.

  • Engage potential applicants with a video showing a behinds-the-scene look at your company’s culture.

  • Share your team’s success stories regularly to motivate and inspire everyone.

Happy employees typically means more productive employees, no matter the industry. Give your plumbing staff more than just a steady paycheck by building a company culture that really shows them how much you value their work. 

Trades consultant Ben Stark advises keeping techs and other employees involved in the process, and making sure they know what role they play in growing your plumbing company. Let them own a piece of it, and you’ll likely get complete buy-in. 

“Employees are your No. 1 asset,” he says.

When crises or setbacks occur in the home services industry, don’t stop hiring for your company or marketing to new customers.

“Resist the reactionary,” Stark advises. “I’ve gone through a recession, a crisis…we put on the accelerator (for marketing and hiring), and we have always come out on the positive side.”

Employees who feel valued also work harder, says Tom Howard, ServiceTitan’s Vice President of Customer Experience and owner of multiple home service businesses. He thinks plumbing companies need to spend as much time attracting and retaining employees as they do trying to sell plumbing services to new or existing customers.

To market the company culture at Lee’s Air, a leading HVAC and plumbing service provider he owns in Fresno, Calif., Howard created a low-budget YouTube video using a cell phone camera to give a behind-the-scenes peek into their unique workplace environment. It ultimately brought new talent to his door and boosted the company’s bottom line.

Mello looks for success stories and shares them with the entire company, instead of only focusing on the poor performers.

“I always call the guys who are winning,” Mello says. “Some of them have a breakthrough or one will have the best day ever. Those are the things I love hearing. I learn it, then I share it. I’m kind of an encyclopedia of everybody’s great story.”

Mello also uses ServiceTitan’s reporting data to boost his team’s spirits with a “morning mojo call” every Thursday. It often highlights the top-performing tech’s work for the past week and shows other employees how to find the same success.

Grow My Plumbing Business with Systems, Checks and Balances

  • Create a well-defined operating system that includes an organizational chart and operating manuals.

  • Include checks and balances for each department to ensure accountability.

  • Automate with field-service software for better efficiency.

  • Control and track inventory with custom reporting in real time.

Tips on how to run a successful plumbing business typically start with creating a well-defined operating system. This includes checks and balances for every department, such as comparing your CSR booking rates to actual jobs completed by your techs, or comparing inventory controls to parts used on each job.

Mello says Art Levi, The 7-Power Contractor author and home services expert, taught him the importance of establishing a good system for running his garage-door business. 

An in-depth organization chart clearly defines each employee’s role, the management hierarchy allows only five direct reports to any one manager, and various operating manuals outline proper procedures for just about everything.

It’s a recipe for success, Mello says, and one used by big players in many other industries.

Travis Ringe, who co-owns ProSkill Plumbing, Heating & Air in Arizona, says ServiceTitan, the leading all-in-one software for residential plumbing, HVAC, electrical and other home service businesses, was a complete “game-changer” for his business.

“ServiceTitan is as important to our company as the tools and the trucks we use every day to accomplish the job,” Ringe says. “It’s what helped drive our company to where it’s at today.” 

The software allowed his techs to go paperless, provide better customer service, and ultimately increase average tickets and conversions. ProSkill started as a one-truck plumbing company in 2009, and now operates with more than 50 trucks, bringing in over $14 million in annual revenue. 

Looking for Plumbing Marketing Strategies? Apply Focus Before You Expand

  • Master your own plumbing business before buying another.

  • Build your business to succeed without you.

  • Narrow your focus to what you do best, and shed the rest.

Are you a plumbing business owner who thinks they can do it all? Do you want to expand into other home services as soon as possible? Be careful not to spread yourself too thin.

Mello tried doing it all, from operating his warehouse and controlling inventory to buying all of his own trucks and fixing them on-site when they broke down. When his expenses exceeded revenue, he decided it was time to rein in some of his entrepreneurial activities.

“I just realized focus is everything,” Mello says. “Instead of being a jack-of-all-trades, you want to be a master of one. … Focus on one, get so big at one, then you can take on a new branch.”

Akhoian says Rooter Hero Plumbing shifted from providing commercial plumbing to only providing residential plumbing services several years ago. 

“We wanted to be really good at one thing, and that one thing back then was residential,” he says. “That’s where I saw the biggest opportunity.”

Narrowing your business focus helps it grow, Akhoian says.

“I’ve always tried to be great at a few things, instead of trying to do everything,” he says.

Think in terms of building your business as a commodity with shareholder value—and one that’s able to operate efficiently, even when you’re not around.

“A business that depends on you to work is not a business I want to buy,” says Mello, who is an owner, partner or investor in 14 other businesses. 

Plumbing Marketing Ideas to Reach the Right Audience

Identify your target audience with specific demographics.

  • Develop plumbing advertising ideas to reach your specific audience.

  • Don’t put all of your eggs in one marketing basket.

  • Automate marketing campaigns for better efficiency.

  • Save cost per lead with targeted email marketing.

Before deploying any type of marketing strategy, a plumbing business needs to know how to target the right audience.

A plumber who thinks his customers are “anyone with plumbing” is full of crap, Mello says.

Know specifics, he says, such as your customers’ age, gender, average household income, and credit score.

“You should know more and more about who your real customers are, and then you focus on direct response … and branding,” Mello says.

Knowing the best marketing tactics to deploy poses one of the biggest challenges for the home services industry, Stark says. 

“You used to depend on the phone book or direct mail advertising or newspaper advertising,” he says. “In recent years, multimedia internet and digital communications...has really opened up so many different levels to choose from.”

Akhoian likes to think outside the box with Rooter Hero’s marketing efforts.

For instance, he instructed his entire Rooter Hero team to leave a business card (with a coupon on the back) each time they visited a public restroom in restaurants, bars, etc.

“You just turn it around and leave it on the urinal. There’s a flush valve on the urinal...you stick the card between the flush valve and the urinal, and it’s always there,” he explains.

Those unconventional marketing efforts not only attracted new customers, he says, but also enticed other service workers to consider plumbing as a viable career option.

Targeted email marketing also works as a cost-effective strategy for keeping your brand front and center in the minds of customers, says Megan Bedford, who runs Mugyver Consulting to help small companies in the trades.

Not only is the cost cheaper for targeted email marketing—$12 or less per lead—it’s the type of communication customers prefer, as opposed to direct mail or a promotional text. The key, Bedford says, is to find the right tool to automate the process, then target the right audience with the right message.

Ringe says ServiceTitan Marketing Pro helped ProSkill Plumbing, Heating & Air leverage its customer database to deliver hyper-targeted email marketing campaigns.

“Our first campaign returned $6,000 in revenue in 24 hours, which was fantastic!” he exclaims.

Focus Your Online Plumbing Marketing Strategies

Post helpful plumbing content to boost Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on Google.

  • Invest in Pay-Per-Click advertising to increase brand awareness.

  • Incentivize techs to get more reviews.

  • Expand your service area in conjunction with Google Local Services.

“Just understand Google is God when it comes to home service,” Mello says, explaining how consumers find 70 percent of all services online through Google searches. 

“Half of your marketing dollars should be spent on SEO, PPC, Google My Business, getting reviews, and Google Local Services.”

Marketing via Facebook also works for some plumbing companies, he says, but it’s hard to make a ton of money on the social media platform.

“Facebook is more of an upside-down pyramid,” Mello explains. “The way I do Facebook is you’ve got a lot of customers at the top who really don’t know about your service or they don’t need it today, but you’re building a funnel. It's at the top of the pyramid, but it’s an upside-down pyramid.”

Some customers will find you because they need your services today, whereas others may find you through brand awareness.

“They call it ‘top-of-mind awareness.’ You’re starting to get that online reputation of ‘Hey, I’ve seen that company before, now I need them.’ Now, they’re going to think of you,” Mello says.

However, don’t make the mistake of only focusing on digital platforms for your plumbing advertising ideas, Akhoian says. 

Personal relationship-building tactics still work in today’s digital world, such as knocking on doors, introducing yourself to homeowners and leaving a business card for future plumbing needs.

“Those tactics are still applicable and I think they still work,” he says. “A lot of people rely too much on digital and don’t do it. I think that’s wrong, and we need to continue to do it.”

Want to Grow Your Plumbing Business? Know Your Why

Identify your own strengths.

  • Don’t become a plumbing business owner just because you want to be your own boss.

  • Keep work-life balance in focus.

  • Understand the financial aspect of running a plumbing business, or find someone who does.

Work-life balance is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but Mello thinks it’s something to keep in mind when pondering whether to start your own plumbing business, grow the current one or expand into other home services. 

He recommends reading the book, Off Balance on Purpose: Embrace Uncertainty and Create a Life You Love, by Dan Thurmon to gain better perspective, especially in this time of great uncertainty.

“The reason you should own a business is NOT because you don’t want to work for someone else,” Mello says. You may exhibit excellent plumbing technician skills in the field, but lack the financial knowledge or expertise in managing a plumbing business.

“I feel bad for a lot of people, they have no business owning a business,” he says. “They better start to learn and get some mentors, or maybe it’s not for them.”

Some companies hit a certain revenue milestone and decide that’s as far as they want to go, because their life is a mess and they’re under stress.

“I feel like I’m just getting started...I literally feel like it’s there to build, it’s ours for the taking,” Mello says. “For me, success just means if I want to go do something, I do it. 

“You’ve got to choose what’s important to you and decide what’s your ‘Why?’”

The family friend who Akhoian apprenticed for had no interest in growing beyond a one-truck plumbing company. That’s OK, he says. It simply inspired him to start his own plumbing company, and today he’s focused on opening four new Rooter Hero Plumbing locations.

In a recent acquisition, Rooter Hero bought a smaller $3 million company whose owner was good at doing installs but hated the administrative side of the business. 

“When we acquired it, we gave him the role of just doing installs, and we hired some people to take care of all of the other parts of the business,” Akhoian says. “We believe we’re going to be able to grow it by four or five times, at least.”

He wakes up every day thinking about how to keep the needle moving forward.

“I’ve always wanted to see how much I could grow,” Akhoian says. “Our goal is to become a nationwide company.”

ServiceTitan is a comprehensive plumbing business software solution built specifically to help service companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and achieve growth. Our award-winning, cloud-based platform is trusted by more than 100,000+ contractors across the country.

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